“Learning happens any and everywhere,” Aleesia Johnson, Interim Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), expresses as she responds to a question about the importance of arts and culture field trips, or what she calls “field lessons”, for students. This was one of many topics that came up when Johnson joined the new President & CEO of the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Julie Goodman, for a moderated conversation on arts education.
On March 27, 2019, 40 arts education professionals and advocates were welcomed into Gallery 924 to introduce themselves to the leaders and hear about their personal philosophies and journeys on utilizing the arts to educate the whole child, in addition to topics related to the value of arts specialists, how arts organizations can better serve families and the broader community, and how the district is prioritizing arts offerings amid substantial budget cuts.
Both Johnson and Goodman grew up in Indiana, had parents who were educators, and directly participated in the arts as a central part of their development. And now both, as mothers, work to ensure that their own children – and all children – have equitable access to quality arts experiences and opportunities.
Johnson and Goodman agreed that the Indy arts community is an essential player in providing those experiential learning opportunities. Johnson noted that many of the students don’t have access to the arts experiences local organizations provide outside of school hours. She also explained how the benefits of arts education go beyond teaching primary colors and musical notation, noting that students are learning to express themselves, create beauty, and experience joy.
When asked how budget cuts are affecting arts education in the district, Johnson affirmed that 100% of K-8 schools have a music or art teacher, and 78% of those schools have both. Even at a time when schools have complete autonomy over their budgets, and have greater choice in deciding whether to fund arts positions or not, IPS schools continue to prioritize arts education. Even still, Johnson acknowledges that there are opportunities to maximize the resources of the arts and philanthropic communities to improve equity and access. With that, Goodman left the audience with a call to action: “We need to be unified in telling the stories of art education’s impact.”
Johnson concluded by thanking the Arts Council for being the keepers of Any Given Child Indy, even among leadership changes on both sides. The moderated conversation concluded at 6:00 pm, but the connections and discussions continued well into the evening. If there were a theme for the evening’s discussion, it would be “we’re all in this together.”